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  Night School Head Off The Class
Year: 1981
Director: Ken Hughes
Stars: Leonard Mann, Rachel Ward, Drew Snyder, Joseph R. Sicari, Nick Cairis, Karen MacDonald, Annette Miller, Bill McCann, Margot Skinner, Elizabeth Barnitz, Holly Hardman, Meb Boden, Leonard Corman, Belle McDonald, Edward C. Higgins, William McDonald
Genre: HorrorBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: Inspector Judd Astin (Leonard Mann) has been called away from home when he was hoping to spend some time with his wife, as there has been another murder in Boston: that makes it two, and they both have the same modus operandi. In this instance, a young woman, a student at a local night school, was finishing up her day job as a teacher's assistant and about to head for class as she revolved on a playground roundabout when a mysterious figure dressed in black biker leathers and helmet appeared and started spinning her about at an alarming rate, then cut her head off. As Astin learns, the head has been discovered in a pail of water a short distance away - but why?

The explanation was worth sticking around for in this, one of the less well-known entries in the British "video nasties" craze of the eighties, that list of banned titles that were meant to have a corrupting influence but in effect simply created an underground network of movie fans, sold a lot of newspapers and raised the profiles of some self-appointed moral guardians, or humourless busybodies as they're otherwise known (without resorting to strong language). Although the murders here were fairly strong, putting the slash in slasher movie, the gore was not lingered over, making this less horrific than some of the efforts to show up on the roster of supposed bad influences.

In fact, this was about as bare bones as a slasher flick got without actually following a bunch of overage "teenagers" around a forest location where they could be offed by some masked maniac or other. It was so straightforward that the identity of the killer was not too much of a surprise if you had any experience of this sort of fiction, the twist one of those shared with an abundance of Italian giallo thrillers, those horror inflected mysteries that also influenced some of the chiller and thriller makers outside of Italy, like the director here… Ken Hughes?! The man who gifted the world Chitty Chitty Bang Bang?! The experience of helming this seemed to put him off direction as this was his last film.

If J. Lee Thompson could direct Happy Birthday to Me then maybe Ken shouldn't have been so ashamed, they had both started in Britain, though Hughes was more of a comedy man, but the no-nonsense approach served both well in more serious items, however Night School was debatably serious. Not that it was a laugh a minute, but some of it was so daft you may have found yourself letting out a chortle or two, such as the two construction workers who settle down with stew for breakfast (breakfast?!) and are disgusted to find a clump of hair in it, leading us to anticipate the diner owner pouring out the stewpot and finding one those bonces in there. It was, shall we say, eccentric touches like that which slasher fans would appreciate since there was a tendency with these to grow samey.

Assuming you saw enough of them, that was, but as in those giallos we were supposed to be engrossed in the conundrum angle, which had one major suspect in anthropology tutor Vincent Millett (Drew Snyder), so obviously we could count him out as a red herring. He has immersed himself in the more primitive cultures of the world, including a tribe whose ritual is to chop heads off and place them in a container of water, which frankly sounds like one and done screenwriter-producer Ruth Avergon was working backwards from her premise of the killer's activities, though apparently it happened the other way around. Meanwhile, the biggest name here was Millett's assistant, Eleanor who was played by a debuting Rachel Ward, here with a memorable scene where she is painted with red mud (?) in the shower as some arcane erotic practice or other. With some scenes that had you wondering if this was supposed to be funny and not peculiar as it was coming across, Night School was a mid-ranking slasher. Music by Brad Fiedel.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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